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How thinking local can help your business during the Covid-19 outbreak

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Times are exceptionally hard for businesses all around the World and there’s the prospect of a 35% fall in UK GDP as a result of the Coronavirus crisis. However, in every crisis there are opportunities to change and adapt your business.

There was a lot of doom and gloom at the start of the Covid-19 outbreak with a number of businesses being quick to close operations and furlough staff to try and prevent losing money and while for some this may have been necessary it’s perhaps not the best course of action for everyone.

I’ve kept very active during recent weeks trying to speak to as many clients and people in our networks as possible trying to assess what is working and what isn’t. You may be surprised to hear but in business there are a number of winners and small businesses muddling through.

What do people need at a time like this?

For many assessing what the needs of their customers are is critical to success, so what do people need?

If you speak to family and friends they may say a number of the following:

  • I can’t get groceries, or I just can’t book a grocery delivery
  • I can’t get basics like bread and milk
  • How about a few pleasures like chocolate and wine?
  • I don’t seem to be able to phone people, how do I communicate with family and friends?
  • I don’t know how to use technology, what the heck is Zoom?
  • How do I get my work emails on my home computer?
  • Can I operate my business from home?
  • How do I keep my kids occupied?

If you’re like me and have an O2 mobile contract then you’ll understand how difficult making a basic phone call has been recently and many people are worried about gambling on a trip to the shops.

The worries about food supply have rightly meant that many companies like Ocado, Sainsbury’s and other supermarkets are reserving their delivery slots for the elderly and vulnerable – but if you scratch the surface all sorts of alternatives come up. We’re now getting milk deliveries from the local farm supporting a local business for whom business could be booming, or at least a chance for more people to get to know about them. Just one example of reducing carbon emissions and sourcing ultra-locally. Yes it’s a little more expensive but it supports a local business who hire your neighbours to work for them and help create jobs.

Once the essentials have been sorted, and especially over a hot sunny Easter Weekend, very quickly thoughts of certain sections of the population turn to home improvements and what they can do with the garden. In a time of lockdown a garden is a huge asset to have and extra space.

What are businesses doing?

From speaking to people and asking questions I know for a fact that 90% or more of business owners, mostly SMEs, just haven’t communicated with their customer base to (a) let them know they are or aren’t still offering their services during lockdown, (b) what services they can offer, (c) what happens in the case of an emergency (for example my boiler breaks down, my electrics stop working).

So it seems we are lacking a basic level of communication and if people don’t here from you then you don’t exist. This could be a time when email marketing comes back to the forefront as it’s the simplest and cheapest way to contact a large number of people (who are mostly bored at home, wanting a distraction or something to read).

If you’re a business that has maintained a good customer list, and there are lots of ways to do that securely either with an online CRM (customer relationship manager) or in a simple form on a password protected spreadsheet, you’re in a great position.

A simple MailChimp setup (or Send in Blue if you want to try a new alternative based in the EU and not USA) will allow you to start sending out emails to your list. They have a number of easy to use templates to get started.

There are text messaging services, WhatsApp for business to send out messages, Facebook groups (if you’ve been developing them) and even Direct Mail is now at an all time low cost.

Just to go through Direct Mail quickly – if you think that a client or customer is likely to treat a piece of mail through their letterbox with anticipation (and not like the plague – although Royal Mail deliveries are all done using gloves and masks) there are several services that will print your design or letter, print the address of your customers on the card or envelope and then post for you. Hey presto, it’s all done for you and you’ve just communicated with a large number of people.

So who is doing well?

Simply put, the businesses that are willing to think about how they can help or who can alter their services to adapt in some way.

The local milk man example – he’s never had it so good and they’ve recently branched out to provide not just milk but also butter, eggs, bread and even orange juice. One set of essentials taken care of from one source. His challenge is to make sure he’s communicating to as many local residents as possible who may be interested. We heard about them via the school WhatsApp group, which just shows how a personal recommendation can be free and powerful.

I’ve seen this model work with a number of other local suppliers. A wine merchant for example, local cafes and restaurants too (Deliveroo and Just Eat have never been busier – but there are options to set up orders direct rather than pay the commission).

The gardener – now is the peak season for garden maintenance and so long as you can communicate you’re taking care to social distance and what you need, for example access to the garden via a gate so they don’t need to enter the house, you can still operate and also take contactless payments or payments in advance online.

Just a point on contactless and online payments – your options here are in abundance! Stripe can take payment from any card and generates invoices for you, GoCardless can be used as a DirectDebit service taking regular weekly, bi-weekly or monthly payments for you. Those are just a few that are quick and easy to set up and that integrate into a website where you can manage orders.

The IT Specialist – one of the biggest winners are IT specialists who can work from home, manage systems remotely and provide support via phone/email or video call. A partner of ours, Brick Digital, provide SEO services to a joint client, Amazing Support. Amazing are now ranking as the number one IT support company in North London and surrounding areas and as a result receiving a number of new and larger enquiries. Just one example of how keeping up your marketing during a crisis can get you ahead when everyone else immediately tries to slash their costs.

Home Schooling and Personal Trainers are particular winners – I’m not sure how we’d cope without my mother, a retired teacher, providing a half hour or so lesson for our young children keeping them engaged each morning.

Keeping your body moving is just as important as keeping your mind occupied and the growth in the fitness area has been huge with trainers taking to Zoom and other video software to keep us moving and exercising.

eCommerce is booming of course – anyone who can sell a product online and deliver it will be in demand and associated services that can be done at a distance like product photography, web design and development, design services too.

For trades people times are particularly hard but there are still opportunities for those who want to keep developing. I’ve heard of electricians thinking about social distancing and instead of working in homes working on outside lighting for gardens, fitting security lighting and camera systems. Plumbers being able to give consultations via Zoom or Facetime. Decorators working on vacant properties. Window specialists supplying parts.

I still feel there are particular wins for architects, interior designers, kitchen and bathroom designers, anyone who can offer their time as a consultant can virtually visit someones home to speak with them and offer plans, insights and advice. Offering paid for downloads from a webpage on how to choose colour palettes or a small consultation fee for creating specific designs for client’s spaces. There are a number of creative ideas.

So while it’s not a great time for business, there still opportunities for people if they’re willing to think a bit outside of their usual tunnel.

If you have a good example of how you’ve changed your business to cope with the Covid-19 lockdown please get in touch at hello@johnlawley.co.uk so we can share your story, either here or via our podcast at Simplified Marketing.

If you need help with any of this then please get in touch for a free consultation where we can have a look through your business processes and see if there are any recommendations we can help you with.

Need help with this?

If you need help with any of the points raised above you can email us at hello@johnlawley.co.uk with your questions. Or arrange a time to talk to the team. Click the link below to book a date and time to speak with us. We will be able to run you through our ideas and show you how we can work together.

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